Book review: ‘Life As We Knew It’ by Susan Beth Pfeffer

life_as_we_knew_itAs if I wasn’t completely freaked out after reading this book, I had to come across THIS gem of a story while I innocently attempted to check my e-mail yesterday.

Really, world? We have to punch the moon? Have you not read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It?! Because if those folks at NASA had come across this startling, hauntingly realistic young adult novel, I don’t know if they’d be making quite the same call!

Pennsylvanian teen Miranda is grappling with the usual issues of high school-related drama — and dealing with her changing family. Her father’s new wife is pregnant with their first child, and Lisa has asked her stepdaughter to be the child’s godmother. Miranda feels justifiably torn but agrees, and life continues in Howell, Pa., for Miranda, her mother and brothers Matt and Jonny. Until a meteor knocks the moon — our moon — closer to the Earth, drastically altering its gravitational pull. And then nothing is the same.

Life As We Knew It is Miranda’s diary — her chronicle of deteriorating conditions as earthquakes rock the U.S. (and rest of the world), unexpected volcanoes crop up and bury the world in ash and supplies become scarce. As with many natural disasters, no one is immediately aware just how bad things are . . . or how bad they’re going to get. The weather is still warm when the first tsunamis hit, wiping out much of the coasts, so questions of survival in the isolated, freezing Pennsylvanian town where the family lives don’t immediately crop up. But the strange, serene and almost idyllic life that immediately follows news of the disaster gives way to something much more intense — and terrifying.

What bothered me most about this book was how absolutely, completely real it felt. Miranda’s voice — at times angry, sad, resigned, bewildered, elated, enraged — rang as clear as a bell. I guess because I spent my late teens and early adulthood in a post-9/11 world, the slightest news of disaster and uncertainty brings me right back to that day, and I feel, personally, that I live in a state of hyper-awareness. Watching Miranda’s family stockpile food and supplies and seal themselves off from the world, becoming a unit and hoping only to live, despite everything, forced a pit to open in my stomach.

By turns frightening and life-affirming, Life As We Knew It is a masterpiece. Pfeffer’s language is eloquent without becoming clunky or condescending; Miranda sounds — and acts — like a “normal” teenage girl. We also get a glimpse into how religious beliefs play a part in the fear and grieving process of those “left behind” following the meteor’s impact, and I spent a good deal of time remembering how busy Sunday services seemed to get after 9/11. When faced with something beyond our control or comprehension — something looming, something horrifying — people react in a variety of ways. I’m certainly no sociologist, and I know Pfeffer doesn’t claim to be one, either, but she paints a picture of the various coping mechanisms with a deft hand. Miranda takes comfort in the fact that even though her own world becomes smaller and smaller, a larger one still exists . . . and is hopefully going to continue on, even without her. Not to draw a heartless parallel here, but that definitely reminded me of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose diary written during her family’s time of hiding during the Holocaust has become such a moving, iconic glimpse into a terrible time in history. If the moon disaster were “real,” I have no doubt that Miranda’s journal would take on a similar feel. Although the Holocaust was a horrific act of human consciousness and, you know, the moon thing . . . would not be. But you catch my drift (I hope!).

There’s so much I could say about this novel — and so much I want to say — but I can’t give anything away! I read furiously, desperate to figure out how they were going to survive this mess . . . and though the novel ends with many questions, I had enough answers that I felt a sense of closure and could move on. Pfeffer’s companion novel the dead and the gone follows Alex, a New Yorker who must protect his sisters after tsunamis wipe out much of Manhattan. As much as I loved Life As We Knew It, I’m not eager to return to the dystopia of disaster-ridden Earth any time soon . . . my poor, tender heart needs time to recover.

If you’re a fan of dystopian literature, post-apocalyptic tales, family dynamics and stories of the tenacious human spirit, please don’t miss this one. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to look at the moon the same way again!


4.75 out of 5!

ISBN: 0152061541 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog

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20 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Life As We Knew It’ by Susan Beth Pfeffer

  1. WOW! I kept seeing your tweets about this book but had not heard of it. After reading your review, it’s definitely on my list. This sounds amazing …. and scary! I’m sure it will make me paranoid. 🙂

  2. Wow, such a great review! I wished I had your talent to paint such a clear picture of how the book made me feel – which is very close to how you felt about it.

    Now I’m debating whether I want to read that Moon story! I’m still not completely recovered from the book, and I don’t need any more nightmares!

  3. I have read Kay’s review for this book and it was positive too. I’m not really a fan of family dynamics, as you call it (I’m more on romance .. teenager here.), but I might read it!

    Great review. But the moon is still romantic Meg 🙂

  4. I absolutely loved this book and you are right, it does feel so bloody real. I can’t believe that NASA are actually going to play around with the moon. This book should definitely be sent to them to read.
    Did you know there is a third book to the series, where Miranda meets Alex and their two stories are combined. It comes out next year.

  5. I really liked this book too! I read it some time ago and have the second on my shelf to read. Now it’s just a matter of time until I can actually pick it up.

    I think the most terrifying aspect of this book isn’t just the realism it portrays but the fact that I really feel like the way the end of the world comes about could actually happen! And dude the Nasa stuff for today is like poking the bear isn’t it?

  6. Great review – although, I must admit, I don’t think I could read this one! It would keep me up nights (and I’m not a big fan of dystopian fiction, either). And I really wish they hadn’t punched the moon!

  7. The timing of this is a little freaky, no? I just finished one book about Earth in peril and am not ready for another quite yet, but I will be adding this to my wish list. Great review!

  8. I know! Wasn’t this a great book? I kept feeling like I needed to go out and stock up on supplies after reading it though. Likeyou I needed time to decompress from it so haven’t read the companion book yet. I do want to read the one coming out next year to see what happened to people after this book ended.

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  10. I agree, it was an amazing book! It creeped me out, too, I found myself looking to make sure the moon was still there while I was reading it. I haven’t read the Dead and the Gone yet, but it’s on my TBR list for a challenge, so I will soon. But sequels are almost never as good….

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  13. I loved the book so much and I already read the next book the dead and the gone and cant whait for the third book to come out.

  14. When reading this book, (im around Miranda’s age) my dad called me downstairs for lunch, and it took me about 10 seconds to figure out that the world had not ended, and i had 3 meals a day, as the reveiw author stated, it is extremily REAL! it gets right into your head

  15. As much as I loved Life As We Knew It, I’m not eager to return to the dystopia of disaster-ridden Earth any time soon . . . my poor, tender heart needs time to recover.

    lol. that’s great. I felt the same.

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